According to Feeding America Tampa Bay, Florida is fourth in the nation for family hunger, and many at-risk public school students will go without eating between lunch Friday and breakfast Monday morning.
USF is working to make a difference for its students in the Tampa area, however, as its first on-campus food pantry tagline declares, “Because no student should go hungry.”
The pantry, a program named Feed-a-Bull, will provide students who are facing food insecurity with a weekly source of food to supplement their grocery budgets, including non-perishable canned and boxed goods, as well as produce and bread at times.
The pantry is open to students starting today and is located on the second floor of the Student Services building in SVC 2058
“We will be providing on a weekly basis a bag of non-perishable food items that weighs about 10 pounds, and then the student would be able to pick up to five perishable items — fruits or vegetables or bread items,” said Callie Nettles, a member of USF’s Student Outreach and Support.
Nettles said the pantry will be open twice a week, Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to noon and Wednesdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and all an enrolled student needs to become a Feed-a-Bull recipient is their student ID number.
She said students can visit the pantry 10 times during a semester. At the 10th visit, the student is asked to speak with a Student Outreach and Support case manager, which Nettles said does not prevent the student from using the pantry and is just to check in on his or her well-being.
Katie Jones, a registered dietitian at USF’s Wellness Education department, said the pantry may receive other household and hygiene items for students depending on how upcoming donations go. Jones said Feed-a-Bull will also provide students with educational handouts and eating plans for how they can afford balanced meals on a budget.
“This food is of supplemental assistance. It’s not going to be able to provide an entire week’s worth of food for students,” said Jones before displaying some of the handouts students would receive. “I would have students make comments a lot saying that they can’t afford to eat healthy, so I put together a shopping list for the grocery store that would amount to seven days of food for three meals and two snacks a day.”
While Jones and Nettles said there is no data to quantify how many students struggle to afford food, they also said there is no question it is a significant issue at USF and other schools. Nettles said other universities and colleges around the U.S. have opened their own food banks or pantries.
According to the member page of the College and University Food Bank Alliance, an organization co-founded by the Michigan State Student Food Bank and the Oregon State University Food Pantry focused on fighting hunger and poverty among college students, more than 200 colleges and universities have created food banks or pantries for their students. A number of Florida universities are listed as well, including FIU, UCF and FSU.
“Oftentimes, a lot of staff members at the university in support roles encounter students who are struggling to afford their basic needs like housing and food,” Nettles said. “With the amount of students that we see that struggle with (food insecurity) and seeing what other universities around the U.S. have done, we thought that it would be something that USF needed to offer for students as well.”
Jones said the concept for Feed-a-Bull began when she and Nettles discovered they were both looking into creating an on-campus food pantry around a year and a half ago. While they were working on creating the pantry, they met the former student president of Feeding America at USF (FAUSF). FAUSF is a branch of Feeding America Tampa Bay, a part of the national Feeding America network, which focuses on providing food to residents in West Central Florida.
Jones said USF has since partnered to launch Feed-a-Bull, with Feeding America Tampa Bay regularly donating food to keep the pantry stocked for students.
Maya Baram, the current student president of FAUSF and a junior majoring in biomedical sciences, said the USF chapter is tasked with staffing the pantry with volunteers, picking up weekly donations and helping staff Feed-a-Bull food drives.
“On Mondays, FAUSF students are going to be coming in and … making food bags, organizing and making sure everything is working. Then … we’re going to be the ones passing bags out, notifying students about the food pantry and spreading the word a little more,” Baram said. “We’re going to be doing anything that Callie and Katie need us to do.”
She said it is important for USF to have a food pantry for its students because while students can receive aid for school supplies, many are not able to afford decent food on a regular basis.
“A lot of students are in need, and they just don’t know where to go,” Baram said. “When you’re hungry, you can’t focus on school, you can’t
focus on your classes — you definitely won’t be doing as well, so it’s important
to have that provided
Though Nettles said the pantry is currently stocked with 500 pounds of food, or enough for 50 students, she said she is unsure of how much food the pantry will need each month.
In addition to receiving donations from Feeding America Tampa Bay, she said Feed-a-Bull also accepts food donations through the Office of Student Outreach and Support and may create donation boxes for the pantry throughout campus.
“That’s the nice thing about being so connected with Feeding America Tampa Bay as well as a lot of different students organizations and university partners who want to donate because … between all those different parties, we should be able to … provide for any student that comes in.”
Financial donations for the pantry can also be made at Feed-a-Bull’s website: usf.edu/feedabull.